When To Carb And When Not To Carb

So often I see people who are training hard, trying to eat all the right foods and still either not losing weight or gaining it when they back off the slightest bit at training. Not everyone is the same, so what one person can get away with, isn’t necessarily what the other person can handle. The way I like to look at it though, is more around timing of the right foods in relation to your training.

Apart from the lazy lifestyle many live today, have you ever wondered why we as a society are eating far less fat than we have historically ever eaten, yet are in the midst of an obesity epidemic? The main reason people put on weight is quite simply to do with our energy storage system which is related directly to insulin. The more insulin you produce, the more energy you store. The way we store this energy is as fat and insulin is only produced when we consume carbohydrates.

* ”Like an infection that raises the body temperature set point, high consumption of refined carbohydrates — chips, crackers, cakes, soft drinks, sugary breakfast cereals and even white rice and bread — has increased body weights throughout the population.”

The average carbohydrate requirement for each person is 130 grams per day. This is sufficient enough to fuel the organs such as the heart, brain, basic muscle function and anything else that draws energy through the day. To put this into perspective, that’s 2 slices of whole meal bread at 37 grams of carbs, a banana at 27 grams and a serving of pasta at 78 grams (all measurements approximate) which equals 142 grams of carbohydrate. This doesn’t even take into account vegetables which are my preferred source of carbs.

This information is great if you are having a rest or recovery day, but during training days, we need to take into account the energy we burn. This is when I look more towards the timing of my carbs in conjunction with the above information. Now I’m not a big fan of a high grain diet, but for recovery from those big training sessions, they are hard to go past. A good rule of thumb is to consume around 50 grams of carbs following an average 1hr training session.

Let’s think about that earlier statement again, “fat storage is linked to insulin”. So all we have to do is stop our body producing insulin! Well that sounds like a crazy statement, but there is a way of temporarily stopping or at least reducing insulin production, therefore stopping the weight gain. It’s called exercising.

After your average training run, your glycogen levels are depleted. Your body wants these stores topped back up again, so will be in a state to readily absorb any carbohydrate you give it without producing much of an insulin response. Your body is more concerned with replenishing glycogen levels than storing energy for a rainy day (which is just what fat is).

When talking about type 2 diabetics, they are generally in a state called insulin resistance. They can produce heaps of insulin, but are unable to effectively use it, which is why they tend to find it so hard to lose weight and gain it so easily. After a run we are in a state called insulin sensitivity where we need very little of the stuff. But it only lasts for around ½ an hour, so get the stuff in there quickly. I prefer stuff like bananas, oat bars, bread (especially the sprouted stuff), or anything else high in carbs that can sit in the car while out on the trails. That combined with a source of protein is a great way to kick start your recovery.

What I am getting at here, is that a high grain, high energy diet isn’t really necessary to have 24/7 unless you are exercising hard and long every day. Save the high energy foods for recovery, especially after those longer endurance sessions, but for the rest of the time, they may cause more harm than good.

Run Well

Chris O’Driscoll

* David S. Ludwig (director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School). Mark I. Friedman (vice president of research at the Nutrition Science Initiative).

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